Richard S. James
When he's not racing - and winning - in a Ferrari 488 GT3 or 488 Challenge, Cooper MacNeil enjoys some 'seat time' in some truly special Prancing Horse cars from years past
For any Ferrari enthusiast it would be tough not to be envious of Cooper MacNeil. When he's not racing a 488 GT3 in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship's GT-Daytona class, he is racing in Ferrari Challenge, where he was the 2018 North American champion in the Trofeo Pirelli class. Or he may be driving one of the cars from the impressive collection he shares with his father, which includes everything from a plethora of '60s 250 GTs, including a Lusso and a GTO; a 275 GTB/4; a 365 GTB/4 Daytona; and on up to more modern classics – F40, F50 and Enzo.
MacNeil hasn't always raced Ferrari cars; other than one year of Ferrari Challenge in 2011, his motorsports career had largely developed in other marques until the partnership with Scuderia Corsa began in 2017. “My father collects Ferrari cars, and he's always had a good relationship with Ferrari, so it was only a matter of time before I started racing them,” MacNeil explains.
His father, David MacNeil, is the founder and CEO of WeatherTech, a company that makes a variety of automotive accessories, but is perhaps best known for its all-weather floor mats and cargo-area mats. David MacNeil has done some racing himself, but these days concentrates on the business, the car collection, and ownership of WeatherTech Racing, which fields the cars that Cooper drives – including the 488 GTE with which he competes in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“Ferrari has always been in my mind the pinnacle of motorsports,” says the 26-year-old Cooper, who has an economics degree from the University of Colorado. “I grew up watching Michael Schumacher and other great drivers. It had always been in my mind to get to race a Ferrari some day.” Then the Scuderia Corsa team won the championship two years on the trot, heralding the tie up with WeatherTech Racing. "We started talking to Giacomo Mattioli, the owner of Scuderia Corsa," MacNeil explains.
One thing led to another and the Illinois-born driver began racing for the team in Ferrari Challenge at the beginning of 2017. His first time in the Ferrari GTE was in the Le Mans 24 Hours that same year, notching a podium finish. The relationship grew to also include IMSA in 2018, where his first season netted a win at Petit Le Mans and fourth place in the GT-Daytona driver standings. It continues in 2019 with Toni Vilander - Ferrari works driver and 2018 Pirelli World Challenge GT champion - partnering MacNeil for the season.
Currently, MacNeil is waiting on his 488 Pista Piloti, a special edition of the most powerful version of the 488 that is available only to those involved in Ferrari racing programmes. “It's going to be a pretty rare car to have, which is cool, and it's going to be a phenomenal car to drive.” For 2019, MacNeil will once again compete also in Ferrari Challenge, despite his concentration on IMSA and Le Mans – both of which, incidentally, he thinks he can win. Part of his confidence comes from the amount of track time he's been seeing.
"One of the reasons I've been driving so well is the seat time – the more you drive, the better you are going to be. If I can couple the 488 GT3 with the Ferrari 488 Challenge and gain more racing experience and more track time in a 488 platform, why not?” he asks, rhetorically. “At Montreal in Ferrari Challenge, I qualified on pole and won both races flag to flag. I really like that track, because it's a modern Formula 1 track, but also like an old-school street course because of the close walls. It requires no mistakes and precise driving. Winning in a Ferrari in Montreal at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was awesome; people still love Ferrari because of Villeneuve.”